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By Jen Mannas, Naturalist

We are half way through the bustling baby bird season here at PAWS and, similar to the American Crows we talked about a couple weeks ago, we are frequently receiving Dark-eyed Juncos at the Wildlife Center.

Adult Dark-eyed Juncos are small birds that have a dark head with a white belly and white outer tail feathers. When you see one of these birds flittering around your backyard you may think they just look like a typical bird but they are more than that. They have actually had a big impact on ecological research.

Biologists have been studying them since the 1920’s and, thanks to these little birds, we have a better understanding of bird biology and behavior. They are also one of the most common bird species in the United States and can be seen across the entire country.

DEJU Feeding 071014 JM RS KS crop

The main reason juncos are brought to PAWS, on an almost daily basis, is that they nest on the ground. This makes them and their babies vulnerable to predators, especially cats. This leads to orphaned chicks and injured fledglings, which are what we primarily receive.

When the baby juncos first arrive at PAWS they are housed in the baby bird nursery where volunteers, interns and staff members take the place of their parents; diligently working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week to keep them fed and healthy.

Some of them will be in the nursery for several weeks before they are old enough to graduate to a larger enclosure where they then wait for their release.

Without the dedication of our baby bird nursery 'parents' these young juncos, along with the other baby birds that come to PAWS, would not survive and make it back to the wild.

Want to help care for baby birds at PAWS? Become a Wildlife Bird Nursery Caretaker.

Found a baby bird you think might need help? Read our guide on what to do.

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Out here on Vashon Island, I have many, many juncos in my yard. When I first moved in here 20 years ago, they all nested on the ground. However, now at least half of the juncos sharing my yard with me nest above the ground--on top of fences, on the support structures of the front porch roof--any small shelf that is above the ground. The nests that have been built on top of the 4-foot tall fence have always been hidden in the honeysuckle.

The juncos that built a nest on a horizontal support 2x6 under my porch roof, had their next fall twice. After 2 next crashes, I thumb-tacked up a disposable styrafoam tray, about 4"x 8". This styrofoam support kept the junco next from falling and a successful hatch of one chick ensued.

I had the rare privilege of watching that mother junco teach her baby to hunt in the grass for food. I think they must have known I was there, but the lesson continued anyway. I was thrilled.

The styrofoam shelf supported another nest each of the subsequent springs. Then it was abandoned. Finally, after several years more, I took down the styrofoam.

Thank you for sharing such interesting information RubyB, and for showing such compassion to Washington wildlife by finding a creative solution to preserve a nest. Great ingenuity! What a privilege to observe the mother and her baby so closely too.

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